When Columbus discovered Martinique in 1493, he declared it, ‘the most beautiful country in the world.’ It’s been French since 1635, when the nation eradicated indigenous Arawak and Carib Indians. Over the years, it has lost none of its magic.

Martinique’s rich history, especially its Arawak and Carib pre-history, is on display at the Musée Départmental in the capital, Fort de France. You’ll also want to see the 17th century St-Louis Cathedral, inspired by the Eiffel Tower. Learn about Paul Gauguin’s stay on Martinique at the Centre d’Art in Le Carbet.

Prefer an active trip? Explore on horseback, visit a plantation, stroll the winding streets of the capital and experience colourful markets. Snorkelling, sailing and water skiing are also all on offer. You can even dive down and see shipwrecks. Finally, explore Montagne Pelée in the north, a volcanic mountain which last exploded in 1902. Oh and make time for all those glorious beaches too.

Vaval is Martinique’s carnival, offering four days of exuberant parades and celebrations just before Lent. Big guitar music and jazz festivals alternate each year in early December, along with plenty of sailing and boating events all year round.

French is the official language, but many also speak a Creole patois.

Shoppers will find French imports like wine, and there are plenty of souvenirs, including local rum, to choose from. Nightlife is good, with bars, discos and restaurants often having live music, including steel bands and limbo dancers. The local sound, zouk, is like merengue, which is only heard in the French West Indies.

Cuisine has both French and Caribbean influences, with creole cuisine also on offer. Stuffed crab, lobster and stewed conch (seafood: snails and sea shells) are specialities, alongside Colombo, a dish of goat and other meats in a curry sauce.

There’s a good choice of hotels and guest houses, and you can camp just about anywhere here. Self-catering gites (holiday home rentals) are also offered.

Get around by taxi or hired car on the high quality roads, and buses and ferries are good. Shared cabs are called taxicos and are a good way to meet local people.

The island is generally safe and most visits are trouble-free with the usual common sense precautions.